Crowdfunding is technology’s contribution to nonprofit fundraising. Hackathons are technology’s contribution to nonprofit social innovation. When we think of hackathons, coding comes to mind. But some time ago the nonprofit world recognized the genius in these 2 to 2.5 day gatherings of techies who try to come up with solutions to unique problems.
The Early Nonprofit Hackathon Pioneers
Code for America - a nonprofit founded in 2009, offers fellowships to tech workers interested in helping city government leaders find solutions to vexing problems.
MITX Up – is a non-profit trade association at the intersection of marketing and technology. It assembles teams of marketing and technology experts to give startup founders their undivided attention and help for two hours.
Creative Currency – launched in San Francisco, CC gathers teams of tech talent, community workers, and social service experts to work to solve problems for a neighborhood with one of the Bay Area’s highest poverty rates.
Spreading Like Wildfire
Weekend gatherings of techies who work to come up with unique solutions to vexing social problems caught on almost immediately. Most nonprofit/social services hackathons attract a crowd of techies by holding a competition for the most creative solutions and awarding valuable prizes to the winner. Hackathons for social solutions are now being held around the world.
Some Current Nonprofit Hackathon Invitations
Paris – “Primary and secondary school kids aged 8 or more are invited. Bring your parents and come to participate in the grand hackathon. You’ll learn how to work together using technology to solve unique problems.”
Geneva – “Developers, designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs – both women and men! Are you interested in innovations that can help address the global refugee crises…?”
Berlin – “Come join us for an exciting weekend of interdisciplinary competition focused on creating new technology-based solutions for unmet needs in healthcare…”
New York – “Educators, technologists, HR professionals, business minds, artists, students in the Greater New York Area! Are you interested in how technology can be used to create decent and sustainable work for minorities….?”
Toronto – “Teen girls ages 13-17 in and around Toronto! You’re invited to participate in the Toronto Teens Learning Code Hackathon for teen girls. You’ll get to learn how to solve real-world problems with technical expertise…”
Los Angeles – “Young people ages 14-18 in the Watts community! Come sign up to participate in Hustle N’ code: rise up for upward mobility. You’ll be introduced to computer programming and challenged to come up with unique solutions to social problems.”
All the invitations above offer prizes for the top creative solutions and some even offer expense scholarships to the less fortunate. They are a small but indicative sample of the hundreds of hackathons currently being held around the world.
Could a hackathon help solve the heroin crisis in Cincinnati, Ohio? Annie Rittgers, a community organizer in the Union Hall district is looking for the answer. She is attempting to organize a successful hackathon against the heroin crisis. Here are the challenges Annie finds she needs to overcome:
- Many community leaders are skeptical regarding a hackathon’s utility for solving an immediate and vexing health crisis.
- Only about 50 participants have signed up for the hackathon.
- She is struggling to get sufficient prizes donated.
- She feels the problem identification is too broad and needs to be narrowed to elicit more practical solutions.
Yet Annie presses on because she believes that current thinking does not even grasp how this heroin epidemic has taken such hold in the functioning working class, let alone suggest any viable solution. A presently unimagined creative burst is needed and hackathons can nurture such bursts. Annie believes it’s certainly worth a try. Apparently, hundreds of other socially concerned nonprofits agree.